Simply put, is not former state Sen. Jane Smith, now a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the most blatant tool inflicted on Louisiana state politics so far in the 21st century?
She always has danced with the one who took her to the shindig, choosing her partner whichever way she thinks the wind blows. Never let it be forgotten that the public schools served as the crucible of her political career – back when public education in the state overall was awful without any meaningful accountability. In that environment, she pulled herself up to become superintendent of the Bossier Parish School District, coming to power fully invested in that inadequate educational model.
But not long after she assumed that helm, education policy began to change with an emphasis on improving performance with accountability measures for schools. Perhaps not coincidentally she bailed into a state representative seat in 1999, impressively the only non-incumbent elected that year without a challenger.
Yet despite being from one of the more conservative districts in the state, her voting record irregularly mirrored that. When squishy Republican former Gov. Mike Foster stumped for the largest tax increase in state history, she was all for it, congruent to a number of other fiscal votes she cast. The same applied under the reign of Democrat former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Nevertheless, she got twice reelected.
However, as soon as Gov. Bobby Jindal arrived on the scene, in his shadow suddenly she became one of the most consistent fiscal conservatives in the House; in fact, in his first year in office she voted to undo her 2002 vote for Foster’s plan. And despite continuing to be chummy with anti-reform elements in education, including winning awards from them and successfully fighting efforts to clip their wings, she worked both sides of the street by authoring and supporting some limited reforms backed by Jindal, such as allowing public schools to request to operate like charter schools. As a result, he backed her foray into leadership positions.
And also when she made an attempt for the Senate when term-limited out of the House. But in a substantially different, even more conservative, district where she had not been embedded for decades, the genuinely conservative Sen. Barrow Peacock defeated her into legislative retirement.
But Jindal never forgot her prodigious water-carrying for his agenda when it really did not conflict with his. First, he parachuted her into a top job in the Department of Revenue, which became the top job on an interim basis when controversy struck the secretary’s handling of a tax credit over which she saw the defusing. Later, she slid into the part-time legislative liaison position.
Then, early this year, she snared one of Jindal’s three appointments to BESE, and it wasn’t long for her to become the point woman on the body for Jindal’s doubling back on his support for the Common Core State Standards, where she joined two long-time reform opponents against the other eight members in support of CCSS and Superintendent John White – in a sense, a return to her old allegiances that she may pursue given the carte blanche earned by backing Jindal’s new position on CCSS. Until then, she had been just a garden-variety lapdog of a powerful policy-maker.
What followed next put her above and beyond the call of her servitude. Earlier this month on social media she posted an allegation that White and others in the Department of Education may have violated ethics laws concerning contracting – the avenue by which Jindal is trying to stop testing for CCSS as he has no authority over the policy and budget of DOE – that merited investigation. “There is concern about John White and possibly others that have had lodging and travel paid for by certain groups that may have been eligible to get contracts from us,” she said, but when pressed for details and whether she knew of violations, she said “I am just saying that there are folks looking into that right now.”
Sure, and someone could go around firing off tweets that there is concern that Smith beats her husband, kicks dogs, and pushes old ladies off curbs, but while it’s not known any of this happened there are folks looking into this right now. In other words, this is about as lacking in substance and embracing of petty character assassination as one can get in order to try to make a very losing policy position slightly better. For his part, White has produced documentation that appears to answer satisfactorily any concerns.
Really remarkable here is Smith’s chutzpah. One main reason why she failed in her Senate bid was revelations during the campaign that she apparently intervened with state government on behalf of Bossier City Councilman Tim Larkin in a dispute still festering today about land use and Highway 3132 in Caddo Parish, which raises ethics questions about her of its own. But with her defeat, folks didn’t go looking into that any further (aside from an interest group that had supported the outcome Smith’s intervention apparently contributed to defeating).
It’s one thing to follow your master’s agenda, but it’s another thing entirely to trash the opposition’s reputation by insinuation with more gusto than Phyllis Diller telling Fang jokes. Which earns Smith the title of greatest tool today in Louisiana politics.